Mini-initiative would protect site plans from regulatory changes for four years

Property owners with an approved site plan will have a four-year buffer against changes in land use rules if backers of a mini-initiative have their way.

Sponsored by the San Juan County Association of Realtors, the mini-initiative would extend from six months to four years the duration that a binding site plan is “vested,” is subject to rules in place at the time it was approved and, as a result, is immune from regulatory changes, such as larger buffers or increased setbacks.

Under the county charter, any individual or group can put a mini-initiative before the County Council by collecting enough signatures of registered voters that equals 3 percent of the number of ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election.

That 3 percent, based on results of the 2008 general election, equals 320 signatures, according to Auditor Milene Henley.

The charter also gives islanders the right of putting initiatives on the ballot for public approval, but initiatives require more signatures to get on the ballot.

Henley said she recently approved a petition submitted by the sponsors and that they will have 120 days, or until March 20, to collect an appropriate number of valid signatures. If that threshold is met, Henley said the County Council would then have 60 days to conduct a public hearing, at which time it could either approve or reject, but not modify, the initiative.

Coldwell Banker San Juan Island’s Sam Buck, a chief supporter of the mini-initiative, said so much uncertainty surrounds the pending update of the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance and Shoreline Master Program that it’s had a “chilling effect” on the real estate market, and on waterfront property in particular. He said four-year approval of a site plan is not a novel idea, as the county allows site plans for septic systems to remain valid for four years.

Buck said potential buyers have shied away from investing in local real estate because it’s unclear what impact future regulations will have on development.

“This is just a way to buffer the winds of change.”

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